November 12, 2012

Gabrielli Primed to Make Providence a Contender

by Matt Forman | | Twitter

Former Duke defensive coordinator Chris Gabrielli said he and his assistant coaching staff at Providence are "genuinely" excited about the potential for the Friars program. "A lot of things are underway, to get us to the level where we’re going to be one of those programs that has everything," Gabrielli said.
© Peyton Williams

New programs pouring resources into NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse have become a popular conversation piece, and focus of stories on, recently; Michigan, Richmond, High Point, Marquette, Boston University, and the list goes on.

But not much time has been devoted to programs recommitting to the sport with similar gusto, like Providence College, which in June hired former Duke defensive coordinator Chris Gabrielli and has a plan in place to take the school to an “elite” level of support.

Providence will break ground this week on a multi-sport athletic facility that will be completed in the next 12 months. It will overlook a brand new turf stadium, which will be built once the previous project ends. All the while, over the next two years, Providence will incrementally become a fully funded scholarship program. recently caught up with Gabrielli, who was featured prominently in Episode Two of Lacrosse Magazine's “The Big Game” series from April, in which he described Duke's defensive game plan — and the challenges of containing reigning Tewaaraton winner Steele Stanwick — ahead of a 13-5 win at Virginia.

The interview…

Generally, how has everything gone moving to Providence and getting started?

It’s been terrific. Really, the most special part about this is the commitment that’s been made to Providence College. That’s certainly what attracted me here. I wouldn’t have left Duke if it weren’t for the amazing opportunity. A lot of things are underway, to get us to the level where we’re going to be one of those programs that has everything — elite, elite athletic facilities. They’re breaking ground next week on a facility that’s going to house our brand new locker rooms, video room, coaches’ offices, a brand new weight room, a brand new training room. It’s going to be obnoxious — that’s kind of the best way to describe it. It’s going to be remarkable.

And we have a plan in place to elevate to a fully funded athletic scholarship program. This year we’ll compete with about 6.4 scholarships, and we’ll upgrade every year, and by the 2015 spring season we’ll be competing with the full allotment of 12.6 scholarships. With that progression, and the development of our new facilities, the commitment has really been made. People can say they’re committed to winning, but you have to really put the resources in. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, really. The administration has provided me with really, really competitive assistant coach salaries, two full-time assistants, a tremendous budget. The commitment is all-in now, and that wasn’t really the case in the past. I give past teams and past coaching staffs here credit for what they did here, being in the Big East and competing with limited resources.

Tell me about the hiring process. When did it start, and when did you take the job? More specifically, what attracted you to the position?

In early- to mid-June, I was in conversation with Boston University about their position that was becoming available, and then I got a phone call from Providence, from one of the associate athletic directors, Steve Napolillo. Right away, I was intrigued because they were in the Big East. The Big East is big-time. But my only concerns were the lack of scholarships, because I feel it’s really hard to compete — borderline impossible to compete — annually in the Big East without a full allotment of scholarships. That was my very first questions. I was put at ease immediately by Steve Napolillo when he told me about the plan, and the commitment that’s been made to the lacrosse program. About three or four days later, I got on the phone with the athletic director, Bob Driscoll, and we started to have the phone interview, and he got me even more excited about the opportunity. Finally, I interviewed on-campus, and I was blown away, first and foremost, by the people at Providence College.

While we’re a big-time Division I athletic program, in the way of Big East basketball and Hockey East hockey, Providence has a small family feel. They treated me wonderfully, really answered all of my questions, and presented the place terrific. I knew very little about Providence, and that’s why I’m trying to create videos about the school and the program, because I was blown away by the beauty of the campus and the potential in the way of recruiting. We’ve seen it immediately, in the way of recruiting, it has been a really fun place to talk to prospects about, even if we weren’t getting all these things we’ve talked about — it’s already an amazing place with amazing people — but we are, which has put us over the top. That’s how it developed. After the interview process, it went pretty quickly from there. I was offered the position by Bob Driscoll and immediately accepted.

It was all sort of a blur, because at Duke we went to the final four again, and it’s a long season, and sort of exhausting mentally and physically, even for coaches. To dive right into the interview process, where you’re trying to put your best foot forward, even while you’re still getting over the emotion of losing when we were fighting for a national championship. That was a challenge, but a fun one, for sure.

You’ve got roots in the Northeast, having grown up in Farmingdale, N.Y., and gone to school at UMass, but you also spent the last six seasons in Durham. Knowing your background, where are you going to be looking for recruits?

Certainly, my roots are in the Northeast, being a Long Island guy and UMass guy. We’ve relied on those connections at Duke, or wherever I’ve been. But the longer you coach, the more connections you make nationally. Providence is a cool place because we attract kids from all over the country. We have kids on our roster from California, Texas, Florida and everywhere else. But absolutely, we’re going to focus on the immediate Northeast, for obvious reasons: It’s a hotbed for our sport. New England lacrosse, in the last 10 to 15 years, has really boomed. There are talented players coming out of here from all over the place. We’re less than three hours from Long Island, we’re driving distance to New Jersey and Philadelphia. Upstate New York and the Albany area, we’re two or three hours away. We really have an ideal location. We can get kids on campus quickly, because they don’t have to jump on a plane, they can drive here and be here almost immediately. We’re definitely focusing our efforts on places like Long Island, Upstate New York and all of New England.

And that includes Boston, which is less than an hour away…

We’ve gotten some tremendously talented kids from those areas who’ve committed in the last couple weeks — kids who are potentially as strong of prospects as kids we recruited at Duke. We’ve been very, very excited about that. We have a lot to sell. We have athletic scholarship money to offer. The kids we’re recruiting who are currently juniors, we’re recruiting them with the fully funded scholarship plan. We’re able to offer those kids scholarships, because by the time they get here, we will be fully funded. By the time they get here, our new stadium will be completed, as well as our new facilities. All those plans, we can show to recruits while they’re on campus and say, ‘Hey, by the time you get here, all of this is going to be done,’ which is pretty cool.

I’m a perfect example, I knew very little about Providence College and Providence College lacrosse, before I was presented with this opportunity. I’ve just been wowed by it. I was able to get John Galloway excited, Brett Holm excited, and all the recruits excited. It’s all genuine. It’s right here in front of us. We’re very, very fortunate that we’ve been provided with what we have been, and the support has been tremendous. We’re so psyched.

How would you describe the commitment the athletic department and administration is making to lacrosse? In some ways, it seems the shift is seismic, at least as far as programs recommitting to the sport.

The best way to describe it: They’re treating us like the football program of the school. We don’t have football here at Providence College, so we’ll have the largest roster on campus. They’re treating us like a football program, in the way of all those things — weight room, video room, locker room, budgets for travel. We are being treated that way, and we are so, so fortunate to be able to say that.

It’s a dynamic change of commitments. We’re going to go from a program that has been probably toward the lower level of Division I, in the way of resources — scholarships, full-time coaches and facilities — to an elite one, in a very short period of time, really a three-year span. That is perhaps unparalleled, with regard to the immediate change that’s going to be made. As a staff, we feel completely blessed to be jumping in on this right at the point when all of this is happening, because these are things that have been discussed for a long time and they’re coming to fruition right now. That’s pretty amazing. It’s not something we have to wait a long period of time for. The kids we’re recruiting are going to see this happen. The impact that it has on your current team, as well as your coaches and the people on campus — you can talk about being committed to winning, but when you can provide actions that really back up that notion, it’s special. I’ve got to thank Providence College, Father Shanley, Bob Driscoll and the board of trustees for making that commitment. They ultimately realized that we can be really good at lacrosse at Providence College, if the support is provided.

What more can you say about the facilities and its corresponding plan, and Providence College itself?

We’ve got a beautiful FieldTurf stadium that’s on its way, which will seat more than 2,500 people. We’re going to sell tickets at the games, to provide that professionalism. In this area of the country where lacrosse is growing and people are really excited about the sport, we’re going to create a fan base. We’re only 20 or 25 minutes from the Massachusetts border, so kids from southern Massachusetts can come down and watch us play against Georgetown, Villanova, St. John’s and Rutgers.

On top of all those things, it’s a great school academically and a fun place to be. Providence is a very cool town that not many people know about, myself included. I’m learning more and more about the region every day, and it’s just a fun place to be. You have Brown right here, and Bryant too. It’s a young, vibrant college area. Boston isn’t too far away. The beach isn’t too far away. Really, we have everything here to provide a complete college experience. That becomes an easy thing to talk about. We get so excited, people in our office can feel that. Because it’s genuine. We don’t have to worry about smoke and mirrors here, we have everything we need to attract the elite players in the country. Because ultimately, we have to win some games. We have to continue to progress and win, and that will allow us to talk to more elite recruits every year, which has already begun.

What are the principle foundations upon which you want to Providence College lacrosse to be built? And accordingly, what kind of players are you going to seek in recruiting?

It’s a really cool opportunity for us, as we have a chance to bring in our own guys — guys we’ve seen play and who fit into what we’re trying to accomplish on and off the field. The interesting challenge for programs that are receiving these incredible resources: remain humble, hungry and touch. What you don’t want to do is get all these new, fancy things for your team, and you become spoiled or soft. We’d like the product on the field to reflect the coaches, in that we’re tenacious, tough, blue-collar. We’re going to value the small things on the field, like ground balls and unselfish play, and a complete team approach. You can’t be successful at this level by just relying on a handful of guys, it has to be a team approach. We will recruit guys who buy into the team aspect, who have a blue-collar background and mentality. We’ll recruit guys who have played multiple sports and know what it’s like to be a role player. They’re probably the superstar on their lacrosse team, but they might be a role player on the football, hockey, soccer or basketball teams, so therefore they’ve learned how to be a good teammate.

Off the field, we’re going to be really, really involved in the community. We’re going to do everything we can, as we have already, with things like the Boys and Girls Club of America, or spreading the game of lacrosse in the area. Rhode Island lacrosse has lots of room for growth, and we definitely want to take part in that and help out. Academically, this place attracts high-end students, because it’s a cool academic atmosphere, with an average class size is about 20-22 students. We’re not a tiny school, but we’re not a really huge school either. We’re kind of in the middle with about 4,000 undergraduates. People will know on campus who are our guys on campus, and we want them to. With that, we want them to represent the program well in everything we do, and bring some fans to our games too. We’re going to work hard to recruit guys who will be successful in the classroom, who will represent us well, be leaders. We want to be the guys on campus who people like so they’ll come support us.

How’s Providence going to play lacrosse between the white lines? It seems like you’re going to want to play fast…

"We’ll recruit guys who have played multiple sports and know what it’s like to be a role player. They’re probably the superstar on their lacrosse team, but they might be a role player on the football, hockey, soccer or basketball teams, so therefore they’ve learned how to be a good teammate."

— Providence coach Chris Gabrielli

What I’ve learned from the mentors I’ve had, specifically Greg Cannella at UMass and John Danowski at Duke, we want to play the sport the way it’s supposed to be played. We want to play fast, aggressive and an up-tempo brand. What a lot of people don’t realize is, if you want to play that way, there’s a tremendous amount of discipline and fundamentals that must be the foundation of your program. Things like two hands on ground balls, moving your feet constantly, shooting overhand, communication, teamwork and valuing the little things.

When people watch us play, I’d love people to say there’s a great deal of attention to detail in the way we play, down to the smallest details. We try to act that way every day, as far as a strict regimen of scheduling, and how we behave at practice, being good teammates all the time. Another thing I’ve learned from the guys I’ve worked for is you have to delegate to your assistants, and trust that they’re going to execute your plan. That starts with hiring. I hired a guy like John Galloway, who’s played that style of lacrosse and played in the Big East, and understands what it takes to compete at that level. I hired a guy like Brett Holm, who played at Tufts with a similar style, very aggressive, trying to take 60 shots a game.

I really hit a homerun with my assistants, and I realize that your role as a head coach is far different than as an assistant coach. You have to take more of a managerial role, delegate, and coach your coaches in how you want things to be done. But then ultimately set the tone every single day with how we want to behave. You have to be hard. You can’t let the guys ever think they can do things their way. It has to be our ways of doing things. Primarily, for coaches, that’s in behaviors. Any selfish acts will be called out. Everything we do will come back to the foundation: We have to rely on one another, we have to be a team, we have to be fundamentally sound. Ultimately, our guys will decide if we’re able to play fast. We want to play fast, but they have to be disciplined, they have to focus on their fundamentals. Certainly, as years go on and we become fully funded, we’ll be deeper in that regard. We’ll be able to play faster and faster every year.

But we’ve been really pleased. I don’t ever want to say we’re building toward anything. That would be unfair to the current seniors and the guys who have been here. We have ample talent to be competitive right now. We just have a long way to go in teaching the game, as far as how we want it to be played, and that’ll be a process throughout the spring. Our product in February will be much different than our product in April and May, because we’re going to be constantly teaching these guys how to play our way. And we’re still learning about our roster. We still have a long way to go in learning who are guys are, and how to best piece them together for us to be competitive. Certain guys, we have, though. Guys like Andrew Barton and Sean Wright, specifically, they could play anywhere. They could play in the ACC, they could play at any level. Those are guys who are big, athletic, fast and can play with both hands. Plus, they are truly, truly committed in our conditioning, in the weight room, and they’re great leaders. Those are just two guys, but we have a lot of pieces already. So we’re excited about the spring.

You’ve mentioned a couple times the assistants you were able to hire, John Galloway and Brett Holm. Knowing their backgrounds, has a focus been on establishing a winning tradition in turn?

Without being boastful, one of the things we talk about with recruits is that our staff has combined to win four national championships. John has two as a player at Syracuse, and Brett Holm won a national championship at Tufts the same year we did at Duke. We definitely have championship experience here, and with that, we know what it takes. All of us also have played a very similar style of lacrosse.

This all comes back to the commitment Providence College has made. They provided competitive salaries, two full-time positions, because any successful team you look at across the country, the staffs have been together for a while. At Duke, for example, we were all together for six years. Each year you work together you know each other a little better, and you kind of finish each other’s sentences on and off the field, and it’s a consistent message. My hope is these guys are here for an ample amount of time, because the consistency of a coaching staff goes a long way. Look at the traditional top schools in the country, those guys have been coaching together or a long time. With Providence College providing what they have for us, we hope to follow that model. The longer we’re together, the better we’re going to become as a team. They have every tool and background for us to be successful. They’re exactly what I was hoping for. I feel so fortunate to be working for those guys every day.

What were you able to take away from the fall, and the opportunity to play in the Catamount Classic? And generally, what are your goals for the long-term?

Playing in the Catamount Classic, I don’t know how much we got out of that, to be perfectly honest with you. We had only been practicing for about three weeks, and it’s almost like we barely knew the guys’ names at that point. Our focus was very much the fundamentals, at that point. We didn’t put much in, only the basics into our clearing game, and our basics into 6-on-6 offense and defense. More than anything else, it was an evaluation tool for us to find out: Who are our guys? Who’s the core of our team? Who are the guys we’re going to depend on? What are our strengths? What are our weaknesses? What do we need to work on? We were so basic on the field, and only together for three weeks, it was touch to tell. We are a far different team today than we were on Oct. 7. It was only a month ago, but it seems like a lot more than that, because we’re still with the guys a good bit. We had a number of practices after the Catamount Classic, and we’re still doing conditioning with the guys. It’ll be interesting.

But my goals for the long-term? We’re here to win Big East championships, NCAA tournament bids, and it all. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I wouldn’t take an opportunity or position at a place where I didn’t think you could accomplish that. Now, I know that’s very, very hard. Everybody is good now. More and more schools are being provided with resources to be successful. Our long-term goals are to be consistent contenders for the Big East title, a consistent NCAA tournament participant, and beyond. That’s where we hope to be.

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